Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Sociocultural Status and Incidence of Marital Violence in Hispanic Families

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Sociocultural Status and Incidence of Marital Violence in Hispanic Families

Article excerpt

It is not clear whether traditional cultural ideology influences wife assaults in Hispanic-American families, or if culture is confounded with the stresses of poverty, unemployment, and immigration status. Our 1992 study of 1,970 families, including a national oversample of Hispanic families, examines the incidence of marital violence in the three major Hispanic-American subgroups and in Anglo-American families, and considers how sociocultural status and attitudes towards violence affect wife assaults differentially. The findings show that Hispanic Americans, as a whole, do not differ significantly from Anglo Americans in their odds of wife assaults when norms regarding violence approval, age, and economic stressors are held constant. At the same time, considerable heterogeneity was apparent among ethnic subgroups on a number of measures. We also found that being born in the United States increases the risk of wife assaults by Mexican- and Puerto Rican-American husbands. However, the presence of norms sanctioning wife assaults within any group, regardless of socioeconomic status, is a risk factor for wife abuse.

Criminologic studies of societal violence, and studies of marital violence in particular, have been characterized by a long-standing debate as to whether violent behaviors are linked to particular cultural or ethnic groupings or whether they are functions of poverty (Kaufman Kantor, 1990; Singer, 1986; Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967). Although experts in marital violence emphasize that marital assaults are not limited to impoverished minorities, they also conclude that minority families have a higher incidence of intrafamily violence (Gelles & Straus, 1988). Studies of wife abuse have identified several causal factors that are associated with minority ethnic status and with poverty, such as unemployment, stress, powerlessness, and violence approval, which support the importance of a sociocultural analysis (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Gelles & Straus, 1979; Kaufman Kantor & Straus, 1987; Straus, 1976; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). However, most of the research either assumes that economic stressors exert comparable effects across ethnic groups or fails to consider the possible diversity of particular ethnic groups such as Hispanic Americans.

This study1 will use data from our 1992 National Alcohol and Family Violence Survey (NAFVS) on a sample of 1,970 families, including an oversample of Hispanic families, to compare the incidence of marital violence between the three major Hispanic subgroups living in the United States mainland (Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban families [n = 743]) and Anglo-American families (n = 1,025). In this analysis we also consider the association between ethnicity and assaults on wives by taking into account both cultural and socioeconomic indicators and the country of birth of Hispanic Americans.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISK FACTORS FOR WIFE ASSAULTS

When socioeconomic influences are considered, there are several reasons to anticipate a greater incidence of marital assaults in Hispanic-American families compared to other groups, such as their diminished access to economic and educational resources and human services (Anderson, Giachello, & Aday, 1986; Mirande, 1977). For example, in 1991 the median income for Hispanic families was only 65% of that earned by non-Hispanic families. Over a quarter of Hispanic families lived below the poverty line in 1991 compared to 10.2% of non-Hispanic families (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Low-income families are at particular risk for unemployment, economic problems, and other stress-producing events that can increase the likelihood of marital violence (Fernandez-Esquer & McCloskey, 1993; Kaufman Kantor, 1990; Straus et al., 1980). In fact, there is evidence that Hispanic wife abuse rates are greater than those reported by Anglos (Kaufman Kantor, 1990; Straus & Smith, 1990) and that the intrafamily homicide rate is also greater for Hispanics than for Anglos (Mercy, 1988). …

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